This is the most hopeless I’ve felt as a Detroit Lions fan since the team went 0-16 in 2008. I’m sure that sounds reactionary following the Lions’ second consecutive blowout loss—and maybe it is—but in terms of where this team is now, and more importantly, what the immediate future looks like, I don’t think it’s hyperbole.
This team is in a horrible position right now, and it’s going to stay that way for a couple of years.
I probably don’t need to convince you that things are bad right now. You have eyes. I presume they work. But let me do it for you anyways.
In Year 3 of Matt Patricia’s defense, they are giving up more points per game, more yards per game, and more yards per play than they ever have. No, seriously, check it out:
2018: 22.5 PPG, 335.0 yards per game, 5.7 yards per play
2019: 26.4 PPG, 400.4 yards per game, 5.9 yards per play
2020: 30.0 PPG, 392.0 yards per game, 6.0 yards per play
In the name of building a culture, Patricia sent away talented players with a personality and replaced them with less talented “yes men.” That strategy has been as big of a failure as you can imagine.
And even though this is a huge blemish for a defensive-minded head coach, the sins on offense may be even less forgivable. The Lions actually have talent on that side of the ball. Their offensive line is filled with Day 1 and 2 draft picks, they’ve got a top 10 receiver, a top 10 tight end, a top 10 quarterback and two second-round running backs.
The coaching staff has turned that into a clock-burning machine incapable of avoiding mistakes and putting up points. In a year in which scoring is at an all-time high, the Lions are averaging 24.6 points per game (19th). They averaged 25.6 in Jim Caldwell’s final year with the team (seventh).
This regime has been a failure and they’ve been given more than enough time to prove it.
The future is bleaker
But for as hopeless as the present feels, I’m dreading the future even more.
Matt Patricia and general manager Bob Quinn are living on borrowed time at this point. The next duo that comes in, though, will have very little to work with.
If you look at the defensive side of the ball, the Lions are either old or untalented. Their best players include a 27-year-old Trey Flowers on a bloated contract, a 31-year-old Jamie Collins Sr. with two more expensive years in his deal, and a 29-year-old safety in Duron Harmon, whose contract expires after this season.
All of the young, budding talent we thought this team had has plateaued and disappointed in 2020. Here are the players the Lions devoted high draft picks to on defense in the past four years: Jarrad Davis, Teez Tabor, Tracy Walker, Da’Shawn Hand, Jahlani Tavai, Will Harris, and Austin Bryant. Do any of those players truly look like building blocks to you right now?
The one, young player the Lions should still have faith in is Jeff Okudah, and we’re still in the wait-and-see phase with him.
Offensively speaking, there’s at least a core there. The offensive line has three relatively young pieces in Frank Ragnow, Jonah Jackson and Taylor Decker. D’Andre Swift and T.J. Hockenson have shown enough in their young careers to believe they could be legitimate weapons for the next regime.
But we have to address the elephant in the room: Matthew Stafford. Even forgiving his recent play, there’s a very good chance we’re seeing the last days of Stafford in a Lions jersey. And while many have been eager to move on from him for some time, I haven’t been one of those.
Despite how the Chiefs, Ravens, and Bills have made it look in recent years, it’s not easy to find an elite quarterback. It took this franchise over 50 years to find someone as good as Matthew Stafford.
And the cost of swinging and missing could be devastating to this franchise. Just look at the Chicago Bears. They’ve got an extremely talented roster, an elite defense, and it’s all currently going to waste because the team can’t find a quarterback.
Yes, the appeal of a quarterback on a rookie deal is tantalizing, and we’ve seen that strategy pay off for so many teams recently, but you’ll have to forgive me for being a little anxious about the prospect of this team trying to find a franchise quarterback yet again.
There is no quick turnaround ahead
The prospect of change is often one that brings hope in and of itself. The present sucks, so change it. I get it. And when you look at some recent examples around the league, that change can often come swiftly. The Rams went from 4-12 to back-to-back seasons with at least 11 wins. The Bears went from 5-11 to 12-4. Hell, a year ago, the Dolphins looked like one of the worst teams in NFL history. Now, they’re 5-3 and holding onto a playoff spot.
But the Lions have none of the features of a quick turnaround. The Dolphins went on a fire sale in 2019, acquiring multiple draft picks and new players. The Rams and Bears already had elite players on defense when their new head coach came to town.
The Lions have nothing. No tradable assets outside of Stafford. No strengths anywhere on this roster. Hell, with three wins already on the schedule, a top-five pick is probably out of the question already, too. The new regime will be coming to the blankest of slates, and with little resources to make a huge, immediate impact.
Can we trust Sheila?
I want to be fair to new Lions owner Sheila Ford Hamp. She shouldn’t have to be viewed as someone responsible for the errs of this team’s past.
But right now—just a mere five months on the job—she’s being handed a franchise that’s in the worst shape it has been in for over a decade. How much do you trust someone that fresh to make the right decisions at general manager and head coach?
Essentially, the Lions have to hit the trifecta to get this franchise turned around. They need to nail the general manager hire. They need to find the right coach for this team and this city. Then they need to find a franchise quarterback that can sling it at least as good as Stafford.
Given the history of this franchise and this league, forgive me for being a little hopeless right now.